Receiving and protecting refugees

The 11th of April, the general manager of the Hôtel des Milles Collines, an expat, is evacuated. He tells his counterpart, Paul Rusesabagina, of the scale of the massacres, and the fighting between the governmental army and the rebels of the RPF in several areas of the city of Kigali. He asks him to visit the Hôtel des Milles Collines if possible. The next day, the interim government leaves the city of Kigali to settle in Gitarama, at approximately fifty kilometers. Rusesabagina gets his family and follows the heavily armed military convoys that escort the interim government. Nevertheless, he turns off as they approach the Hôtel des Milles Collines. His arrival bothers some employees that refuse to give him the keys. Indeed, since the evacuation of the general manager, they keep the keys of the Hotel, control the reserves and have appropriated several benefits and power that they don’t want to lose. The management of SABENA in Brussels intervenes by sending a fax naming Rusesabagina General Director of the Hôtel des Milles Collines and Representative of all the interests of SABENA in Rwanda.

Sadly, the situation in the Hotel is alarming: some hundreds of refugees are devoid of all protection and the militia Interahamwe starts building a roadblock at the entry of the Hotel. But, Rusesabagina personally knows the commander of the national police force of Muhima, in charge of the security of the area. He negotiates and obtains from him 5 policemen to protect the Hotel and prevent the militia Interahamwe building their roadblock.

Day after day, refugees continued to flock, after having passed many adventures. Indeed, many roadblocks circle the Hotel. Most refugees pass through them thanks to the help of some militaries or militia chiefs. Rusesabagina used his friendship ties with certain authorities to bring to his hotel some of his threatened friends. Among them, a Tutsi lady doctor, stuck for two weeks in her district with her husband and her children, says today: “ (…) Paul called the Mille Collines. He was an old friend, and was checking if he was still alive, to save them”1.

Another survivor explains: “ The next day, I found out that the director of the Hôtel des Milles Collines was repatriated back to Brussels or somewhere else and that he had been replaced by a friend of mine. (…) I inform the doctor and ask him to warn the director of the Hotel of my presence in Saint Paul: (…) The doctor does three return trips between the parish and the hotel, (…). Every time, he comes empty handed: the director is nowhere to be found but an employee took the message. I start feeling desperate. Among the refugees the atmosphere is becoming more and more gloomy. (…) All of a sudden, there is an immense silence in the chapel. The women start trembling, (…). I look at the entrance. I think I see death. I see a tall officer, armed with a gun, standing in the doorframe, adjoined by two soldiers armed with a sub-machine gun. “The director of the Hôtel des Milles Collines sends me to escort you to him. –Sorry? - I’ve told you that I have received the order to drive you to the Hôtel des Milles Collines.” I don’t really understand. Am I already in Heaven? (…) I can’t leave without the two children of my niece. – Where is the problem? Bring them with you, Goodness.” I wonder for a second if it’s not a trap to assassinate us after having tortured us. But I find a key argument: a military man from governmental forces cannot know that I know the director of the hotel” 2

Rusesabagina warmly welcomes all refugees, without any distinction. Among them, Tutsi, political opponents and Hutu dissidents, as well as some foreigners. He manages to find room for everyone, in the bedrooms and the halls. In his own suite, he can fit 40 people. The Hôtel des Milles Collines is no longer a luxurious place; it has become a refugee camp. In the hall, clothes, bags with food, mattresses and some blankets lie around; the leather sofas are gathered and shaped in beds; the bulbs of the chandeliers are not replaced; the plastic bins are used to collect water. Among the refugees, doctors, nurses, journalists, magistrates, civil servants and businessmen can be found. They have several contacts with influential people, whether Rwandan or foreigner. Rusesabagina allows them to use the phone and the fax of the Hotel freely to warn anybody that could save them. Always available to listen to the refugees, his office is always open to them.


1 Philip Gourevitch, We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, editions Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998. This book was translated into French in 1999 and published by the editions Denoël of Paris, under the title: Nous avons le plaisir de vous informer que demain, nous sertons tués avec nos familles.

2 Yolande Mukagasana, la mort ne veut pas de moi, editions Fixot of Paris, 1997.